“With great energy and precision, Ms Chan produced drama and tenderness, power and…

“With great energy and precision, Ms Chan produced drama and tenderness, power and…

Under the magical baton of Elim Chan, we were served with a feast of British composition from the magnificent Philharmonia Orchestra -with the audience, as much as the orchestra falling under the spell of her mesmerising control. With great energy and precision, Ms Chan produced drama and tenderness, power and delicacy over a huge dynamic range. Her emphatic directions were occasionally emphasised by a stamp of the foot.

The evening began with Hannah Kendall’s tone poem ‘Baptistry’ which, despite its 21st century chromaticism and rhythms, sat very well with the High Romanticism of Finzi, Vaughan-Williams and Holst. It was good to be able to acknowledge the composer, who was present.

Finzi’s ‘A Severn Rhapsody’ charmed, from its opening wind and low strings to the characteristic clarinet solo and rocking low string pedal figure, in its depiction of the stately Severn gliding through the rolling Gloucestershire vales.

‘Norfolk Rhapsody No. 2’ by Vaughan-Williams featured some of the folk songs he gathered there in 1905. The opening ‘cello solo was slightly delayed by an errant high-frequency whistle; such is the nature of live performance. Conceived in midwinter, the piece is contemplative apart from a brief lively scherzo.

Then came perhaps the best-known introduction since Beethoven’s 5th, the five-time col legno string chords of ‘Mars, the Bringer of War’. The sheer dramatic power of the extended orchestra was literally breath-taking; at the end of the movement, there was an audible collective release of held breath! Throughout the seven movements, the audience was entranced and as the wordless female chorus (choristers from Gloucester and Worcester cathedrals, Three Choirs Festival Youth Choir and Academia Musica) disappeared down King Street, we knew we had had an experience that was truly out of this world.


Tenebrae is currently, without question, one of our finest choirs. The precision of intonation, phrasing and balance and the range of pitch and dynamics appear effortless to this phenomenally talented group of singers under the meticulous direction of Nigel Short. The wonderful space of Hereford Cathedral was used to maximum effect this afternoon as distance and direction added to the atmospheric performance.

Edward Elgar’s ‘They are at rest’ appeared mysteriously from the east end, the choir processing down the south aisle with the basses taking their place on stage to start the plainsong and drone of ‘Song for Athene’ by John Tavener, while the upper voices answered from the aisle, arriving on stage for the tumultuous tutti. The Ivor Gurney piece ‘Since I believe in God’ further demonstrated the dedication to purity of tone with the countertenors dropping out of the female-only line. We were then treated to the premier of ‘A Foreign Field Psalm’ by Torsten Rasch, who was present.

This setting of ‘The soldiers psalm’, Psalm 91, started life as part of a larger work commissioned for the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 2014. J. Judith Bingham’s very chromatic “A Walk with Ivor Gurney” concentrated on women’s voices and featured a superb solo from mezzo-soprano Martha McLorinan. The lower voices had retired to the north aisle but joined in from a distance. The humming effect, which sounded almost instrumental, was most effective. The first part ended with the heart-rending “Take him, earth, for cherishing” with the basses beautifully placing their low b.

After the interval, we were treated to C Hubert H Parry’s ‘Songs of Farewell’. The unhurried and unfussy treatment of these familiar works felt natural and almost comfortable, with marvellous ensemble phrasing in the swells of ‘My soul, there is a country’, the counterpoint of ‘Never weather-beaten sail’ and the syncopation of ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners’.

Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘Friede auf Erden’ takes chromaticism to a point just short of twelve tone and would usually be performed by a much larger choir but Tenebrae produced all the High Romantic power and drama that was required.

A deeply moving and, musically, most fulfilling experience.

The Solitary Pilgrim

James Gilchrist, tenor and Anna Tillbrook, piano

Holy Trinity Church provided the perfect ambience for this gifted tenor; intimate but with enough space for a voice with a wide range of pitch and dynamic. Opening with ‘O Solitude’ by Henry Purcell, James Gilchrist displayed his sustained, natural voice throughout its considerable range. His tone was always open with light, precise and idiomatic ornamentation. In this, he was most skillfully and sensitively accompanied by Anna Tillbrook on the piano.

Source: Hereford Times

 – By: Mischa Spel


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